Archive for July, 2010


Sagbo becomes the first black ever elected in Russia

Jean Gregoire Sagbo made history. This 48 years old real estator became last week the first Black ever to get elected in Russia. A significant milestone offering a more comprehensive approach of racial relations in Russia, far away from the apocalyptic description Western media usually offer.

People in the Russian town of Novozavidovo used to stare at Jean Gregoire Sagbo because they had never seen a black man. Now they say they see in him something equally rare — an honest politician.

Sagbo last month became the first black to be elected to office in Russia. Sagbo’s election as one of Novozavidovo’s 10 municipal councilors is a milestone. But among the town’s 10,000 people, the 48-year-old from the west African country of Benin is viewed simply a Russian who cares about his hometown.

He promises to revive the impoverished, garbage-strewn town where he has lived for 21 years and raised a family. “Novozavidovo is dying,” Sagbo said. “This is my home, my town. We can’t live like this.”
“His skin is black but he is Russian inside,” said Vyacheslav Arakelov, the mayor. “The way he cares about this place, only a Russian can care.”

Inspired by communist ideology, Sagbo came to Soviet Russia in 1982 to study economics in Moscow. There he met his wife, a Novozavidovo native. He moved to the town in 1989 to be close to his in-laws.


Opposition wants to build a new capital… in Siberia

Western media are damn right! What Russia really needs is a swift of Power and opposition leaders to take office! Well, this was before the internationnly acclaimed Other Russia party unveiled its political program for Russia. And the first step of its government would be to… build a new capital city in Siberia! What about unemployment and social issues?

A few months ago, Other Russia, which was then only a conglomerate of opposition parties and not yet an unified platform, gained enormous international credit for demonstrating in Moscow against Putin/Medvedev “authoritarian regim”. Former chess master Kasparov was among the leaders which brought international attention to the movement.

So, everybody was impatient to discover the party’s program. What do they have in store for Russians? So far, nothing able to improve citizen’s daily life and stenhten global national economy.

Led by controversial writer and activist Eduard Limonov, the party held its founding congress in Moscow on July 10. The party says its plan would counter Russia’s tilt towards the West – as well as boost Siberia’s ailing infrastructure.

The program, published in the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, also includes plans to eliminate red tape from Russia’s bloated government apparatus, and calls for wholesale reforms in areas as diverse as agriculture, housing, the army and the mass media.

Limonov, who once served time for plotting to raise an army to invade Kazakhstan, outlined “The Other Russia” he would like to see in a book of the same title published in 2008.

“Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade launchers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry,” he explained, adding ominously that “Many types of people will have to disappear.”

He also suggested that Russia would need a “New God, possibly some Tunguska meteorite or an iron planet in the cold universe. Our god will be the one who gave us death. Maybe our god will be death.”


Negotiating the biggest spy swap since the end of cold war

In less than a week, US and Russian governments have secretly discussed and negotiated the largest spy swap since the end of the cold war. The recent warming of Russain-American relations probably have helped the two countries to set a deal so fast.

In an unusual show of accommodation on the Fourth of July weekend, US officials allowed Russian diplomats to come to the closed federal courthouse in Boston on July 3 and meet with Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova in a lockup, according to their lawyers, who were present.

That secret meeting was part of a 12-day flurry of events involving the arrest, conviction, and deportation of 10 Russian spies in exchange for four men accused of spying on Russia for the United States and Britain. The speedy resolution raised speculation by one lawyer that the swap was in the works even before the arrests, but federal officials denied that was the case.

During the weekend meeting, the Russian diplomats reassured the accused Cambridge spies that “we know you’re here, we’re going to work for you, and we’re available,’’ said Vavilova’s attorney, Robert Sheketoff.

It did not take long. Two days later, the deal had been struck between the United States and the Russian Federation, and there was suddenly a race to make it happen as quickly as possible, the lawyers said.

“On Monday afternoon I get a call saying a deal was reached and they wanted to get word out to all the defendants in person,’’ said Boston attorney Peter B. Krupp, who represents Bezrukov, recounting his call from a Russian Embassy official.

Early the next morning, Krupp accompanied Russian diplomats from Washington, D.C., and New York to a jailhouse meeting with Bezrukov at the Plymouth County jail, followed by a meeting with Vavilova at the Donald W. Wyatt detention facility in Central Falls, R.I.

“He tells my client what the terms of the deal are,’’ said Krupp, adding that the accused Cambridge spies, who had been passing themselves off as French-Canadians Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, were told they would have to reveal their true names and admit they were Russian citizens acting under the direction of the Russian Federation since they arrived in the United States in 1999.

“He makes clear that this was discussed by the president of the country,’’ said Krupp, referring to President Obama.

By yesterday, the international episode was over as the Cambridge couple and eight others arrested June 27 in Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey arrived in Russia a day after they pleaded guilty in US District Court in Manhattan to conspiring to act as agents of the Russian Federation in the United States and were sentenced to the 12 days they had already spent in jail.


Will the “spy scandal” ruin US-Russia global warming?

Everything seemed so perfect between Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev last week in Washington. Well things have changed since then. A dozen alleged Russian “spies” have been arrested in the United States. However Russians and Americans don’t seem to be willing to turn this James Bond style crisis into something big. Both Nations realize that they can’t waste such a recent friendship.

Russia and the US hope that the recent “spy scandal” will not damage bilateral relations and that the “reset” in Russian-US relations declared 18 months ago will go ahead. 

Last Sunday the US police detained ten suspects in a purported Russian spy ring. The 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus on Tuesday. Reports by the US Justice Department claim that the suspects were spying for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. Significantly, the arrests came through a few days after Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama held successful talks in Washington and shared a meal in one of the US restaurants. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the timing as “perfect”.  

Lavrov says the “spy scandal” pursues dishonest agenda and runs counter to the “reset” in bilateral relations declared by President Obama over a year ago. Many believe that it is designed to bring down Obama’s ratings in the run-up to mid-term elections to the US Congress.

Andrei Klimov is the Deputy Chairman of the International Relations Committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament.      

“The so-called “spy scandal” is unlikely to damage Russian-American relations, he says. Many in the US are dissatisfied with President Obama’s policies and are ready to set a trap for him. Those discontented have used his good progress with Russia to ruin the “reset”. Provocations of this sort have always accompanied progress in Russian-US relations”, said Klimov.   

The US State Department has indicated, however, that the United States will continue to develop ties with Russia and that no diplomatic expulsions are on the agenda. Washington must be aware of the shakiness of its position. Even those among the political elite doubt the seriousness of accusations against the arrested “spies”.

Former National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has described the whole story as “slightly absurd”, since, he said, the scale of “espionage activity” is too insignificant to be blown up into a scandal. Mass media and ordinary citizens are skeptical about the incident. Most American bloggers see it as “a James Bond thriller”. Some argue it was fabricated to enhance the reputation of special services.   

Meanwhile, a New York court released one of the suspects, Vicky Pelaez, on $250-thousand bail on Thursday. The judge explained that she was the only of the “spies” who had never concealed her citizenship or name.   

For today, the accused are incriminated with carrying no official registration to act as foreign agents. Doing this kind of work without official permit is punishable by up to five years in prison.    

The suspects are also charged with money-laundering. The US authorities claim that the funds they received for their work and life in America were not declared, that they paid no tax on them, and that the money was used for illegal activities, a charge much more serious than the other ones. As for accusations of espionage, FBI said none of the suspects disclosed state secrets.   

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said Russian diplomats will be ready to help their compatriots with any information, if needed.